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SECRETS OF EDEN

BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN
READER’S GUIDE
BY KIRA WALTON

A NOTE TO THE READER QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

In order to provide reading groups with the most 1. Re-read the quotes that open the book. One is
informed and thought-provoking questions possible, from a leading voice of Enlightenment rational-
it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot ism, the other from the Bible. Samuel Johnson
of this book—as well as the ending. speaks about loss and sorrow; the quote from
Genesis is about the bonds of marriage. What
If you have not finished reading Secrets of Eden, did you think of this unique pairing when you
we respectfully suggest that you may want to wait began reading? Now that you’ve finished Secrets
before reviewing this guide. of Eden, how do these quotes help shape your
understanding of the story?

ABOUT THIS GUIDE 2. What did you think of the title before you
began reading? The phrase “secrets of Eden”
“There,” says Alice Hayward to Reverend Stephen appears when Heather Laurent and Reverend
Drew, just after her baptism, and just before going Drew are together in New York: “He pulled
home to the husband who will kill her that evening me against him and said simply, ‘There were
and then shoot himself. Drew, tortured by the cryptic no secrets in Eden’” (page 259). What do you
finality of that short utterance, feels his faith in God think Reverend Drew means by that? What are
slipping away and is saved from despair only by a the secrets in the biblical Eden? Where is the
meeting with Heather Laurent, an author of wildly “Eden” in Secrets of Eden? Is it a place? A state
successful inspirational books about…angels. of mind? What are the secrets in the story, and
who is keeping them? What is gained or lost
Heather survived a childhood that culminated in her when these secrets are revealed?
parents’ murder-suicide, so she identifies deeply with
Alice’s and George’s daughter, Katie, offering herself 3. Chris Bohjalian is known for writing novels
as a mentor to the girl and a shoulder for Stephen— with an evocative sense of place: New England,
who flees the pulpit to be with Heather and see if especially small-town Vermont. How does the
there is anything to be salvaged from the spiritual setting of Secrets of Eden impact the characters?
wreckage around him. How is it vital to the story? Could these events
have taken place in another landscape, another
But then the state’s attorney begins to suspect that social context? Why or why not?
Alice’s husband may not have killed himself…and
finds out that Alice had secrets only her minister PART I: Stephen Drew
knew. 4. The novel begins from Reverend Stephen
Drew’s perspective. How would you describe his
This reader’s guide is intended as a starting point for voice as a narrator? Is he sympathetic? Reliable?
your discussion of the novel. What is his state of mind? In the first few pages
of the first chapter, what does Reverend Drew

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SECRETS OF EDEN BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN
READER’S GUIDE BY KIRA WALTON

reveal about himself? About Alice Hayward’s life 9. Catherine says of Reverend Drew, “the guy had
and death? What does he not reveal? Did you ice in his veins . . .[a] serial-killer vibe” (page
immediately trust his point of view? Why or 106). How does this compare with how he
why not? What words would you use to describe portrays himself? Do you think Catherine sees
him? Do you think he’d use the same words to Reverend Drew clearly based on what she knows?
describe himself? Is she jumping to conclusions, or making use of
her intuition and the hard truths she’s learned
5. When he recalls Alice Hayward’s baptism, throughout her grueling years on the job?
Reverend Drew remembers the word “there”
in a poignant way, comparing the last word 10. At one point, Catherine says, “I know the dif-
Alice spoke to him with Christ’s last words ference between mourning and grief ” (page
on the cross. Why do you think this simple 193). What do you think she means by this? Do
word—“there”—is given such weighty impor- you agree that there’s a difference? How would
tance? How is it related to what Reverend Drew you describe the reactions, so far, of Reverend
calls “the seeds of my estrangement from my Drew, Heather, and Katie to the terrible events
calling” (page 13)? they’re faced with—as mourning or grief?

6. Reverend Drew says of his calling to the PART III: Heather Laurent
church: “All I can tell you is I believe I was 11. By the time we get to the section narrated by
sent” (page 44). He then delves into a grisly Heather, we’ve seen her from both Reverend
description of the Crucifixion (pages 45–48), Drew’s and Catherine Benincasa’s points of
recalling the first time he studied it in high view, and we’ve read excerpts from her books.
school. With what we know about Reverend How would you describe her? Do you agree
Drew up to this point, how did this revelation with Drew that she’s “unflappably serene…an
help you understand him? Were you drawn individual whose competence was manifest and
in or repulsed by his fixation? whose sincerity was phosphorescent” (page 65),
or do you agree with pathologist David Den-
7. How does Reverend Drew explain his nison’s take on her: “‘Angel of death. I’m telling
spiritual breakdown? Was there one moment you: That woman is as stable as a three- legged
when he lost his faith (Alice’s baptism, her chair” (page 182)?
death) or was it the result of a series of events?
What kind of response did you have to his 12. Heather’s section begins with her description of
breakdown? One of empathy? Curiosity? her first encounter with an angel: she’s a young
Suspicion? woman, lost in the depths of depression, and in-
tends to commit suicide (pages 225–232). How
would you interpret this moment? What does it
PART II: Catherine Benincasa reveal about how she deals with the deaths of her
8. Before we hear from Catherine in her own parents? About how she sees the world?
voice, we see her through Reverend Drew’s
eyes. What is your first impression of her 13. Reverend Drew and Catherine Benincasa both
from his perspective? Does that impression provide graphic descriptions of crimes and
change once you see things from her point crime scenes—the Haywards’ and others—but
of view? What words would you use to Heather’s memories of the violence between her
describe Catherine? parents is particularly grim. How do you react
to reading these passages?
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SECRETS OF EDEN BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN
READER’S GUIDE BY KIRA WALTON

PART IV: Katie Hayward 19. Pay particular attention to the minor characters:
14. Ending the novel in Katie Hayward’s voice is Ginny O’Brien, Emmet Walker, David Den-
a provocative choice. What do you think of it? nison, Amanda and Norman, Alice Hayward.
You’ve now seen her from the points of view What does each minor character reveal about
of Reverend Drew, Catherine, and Heather— the narrators? How does each move the story
point of view—how would you describe her? forward?
Does she seem like a typical teenager? To bor-
row Catherine’s distinction, is Katie grieving or 20. Reverend Drew remembers an intimate mo-
in mourning? ment with Alice Hayward in which she asks
him to “Remind me who I am” (page 99). How
15. At one point during a conversation with Katie, do you understand this need in Alice? What
Reverend Drew says, “it was one good thing to was she looking for in Reverend Drew? Do you
come out of that awful Sunday night: We were think she got it?
all striving to be better people. To be kind. To
be gentler with one another” (page 321). Is this 21. Excerpts from Heather Laurent’s books are
true in the case of the people in this novel? Can interspersed throughout the novel. Look closely
good come out of such violence, such painful at each excerpt and at what comes before and
loss? How does each of the four main characters after. Discuss why you think these are included,
respond? How does the town in general respond? and how they impact your reading based on
where they appear. Is there a literal connec-
16. Re-read the interview between Katie Hayward tion between what’s happening in the story and
and Emmet Walker (pages 155–160). Think what’s happening in Heather Laurent’s books,
back to when you read it the first time, before or is the connection more nuanced? Does one
you’d finished the book. Did anything give you excerpt stand out to you more than the others?
pause? Is there anything in Katie’s responses that
reveals what we later find out to be true? 22. Chris Bohjalian’s readers know that his novels
often address a significant social issue. Secrets of
17. The novel ends with a revelation. Did it sur- Eden tackles the tragedy of domestic violence.
prise you? How does the author build suspense How did reading this novel influence your un-
throughout the novel? Can you find moments derstanding of domestic violence?
of foreshadowing that hint at the ending?
23. Angels are a recurring image and a major theme
18. Part I ends with Reverend Drew saying, “If in Secrets of Eden. Who sees them? When do
there is a lesson to be learned from my fall… they appear? How are they described? How do
it is this: Believe no one. Trust no one. Assume they affect each character differently? In the
no one really knows anything that matters at end, do the angels provide an image of hope?
all. Because, alas, we don’t. All of our stories
are suspect” (page 101). Do you think all the
narrators’ stories—Reverend Drew, Catherine,
Heather, Katie—are suspect? Is one of them
more believable, more reliable, than the others?

Reader’s guide for SECRETS OF EDEN by CHRIS BOHJALIAN. Copyright © 2010 by CHRIS BOHJALIAN. Distributed by permission of
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this reader’s guide may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.
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